“It’s white women’s niceness that is killing us all.”
A group of women sit around a dining room table to break bread and talk. But it won’t be an easy or pleasant conversation. That is because it will strive to be an honest conversation about race in America. Deconstructing Karen, a documentary by director Patty Ivins Sprecht, watches as the conversation unfolds with a group of white women as their understandings of themselves is challenged.
The women are there as part of a Race2Dinner event. It is facilitated by Race2Dinner co-founders Saira Rao and Regina Jackson. Rao is Indian-American who describes herself at one point as a former white feminist. Jackson is African-American who has been involved in civil rights issues for decades. Rao and Jackson lead the women in a conversation that is at times provocative, confrontational, and blunt.
The target audience for dinners such as this are white women who describe themselves as liberal or progressive. The underlying thesis is that racism is inherent in our society. (Racism is defined in the film as “the systemic oppression of a racial group to the social, economic, and political advantage of another.”) Because of that, all white people carry racism within them. Even Rao raises her hand when they ask who at the table is racist. The point of the dinner is to help those who come (and the rest of us as we watch) to begin to see the way racism and white supremacy have defined who they are. The extension of the thesis is that even those who think of themselves as woke may still be supporting the inherent white supremacy of our culture.
More than once the facilitators say that change is not possible until there is acknowledgement. And that acknowledgement is what the film is seeking. (Even that is hard to accomplish in the brief 73 minutes of the film.) This is not a film that offers a cure for the racism of society, or even a great epiphany of self-awareness. At best this offers a starting point for viewers to rethink what racism is and to what extent we participate in racism, even if we think otherwise.
Having taken part in anti-racism events, I know that these ideas can be difficult to comprehend intellectually, but even harder emotionally. The film gives us a good start at an intellectual understanding of how racism and white supremacy infect us. The real mission has to be for us to not only intellectually acknowledge our racism, but to emotionally incorporate that into our self-awareness and daily lives.
Deconstructing Karen is available on VOD.